September 12th, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave his famous ‘Moonshot’ speech where he gave NASA the goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It was an ambitious goal, that set an entire national workforce into motion – one that was accomplished in less than seven years.
Fast forward to today, and the EU and Australia are beginning to define their current ‘moonshot’ agendas around climate change – reducing emissions and increasing electrifications by 2030. The US now has two agendas – one on climate change electrification by 2040 and one to cut the cancer death rate in half within 25 years. All are lofty goals, and given the rapid rate of climate change and environmental impacts, these initiatives are much more pertinent than going to the moon.
So what makes ‘moonshot’ projects so special and how does it relate to SPARC?
These types of projects pool the best talents together, because collaboration is the ONLY way to accomplish an undertaking of this magnitude. And everyone involved has the same shared vision, that no matter how big the problem is the solution is not impossible.
And solving these ‘moonshot’ problems leads to technologies and solutions to the unknown future problems. NASA’s moonshot initiative led to the direct and further development of cordless tools, fire retardant clothing, solar panels, and GPS to name a few. The human genome mapping project of the 90’s led to rapid sequencing that was critical to developing vaccines for the current COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the same for SPARC. We’re looking to develop the next manufacturing technologies – solutions to the big problems today and into the future. And we’ll be doing this with our collaboration partners, from both across our sibling companies and external researchers – a team that we’re growing more and more every day.
SPARC has now successfully run four disruptive brainstorming sessions. And these sessions have generated nearly 200 potential research project ideas, across plastic remediation in oceans and wastewater treatment. But what exactly is ‘disruptive brainstorming’ and how effective can a system like this be to implement change and new product and IP development?
Disruptive brainstorming relies on giving a problem – whether it’s a research idea or customer issue or global-scale issue – to a group of people with the intent of generating as many ideas and solutions as possible. The key aspects are that there are NO preconceptions about the solutions being implemented and NO judgement on the ideas – the crazier the better! By throwing caution to the wind in developing a solution, real innovation can occur. While the molding, casting and forming of metal and plastic parts has been around for ages, the development of 3D printing has only come about since the 1980’s. This crazy idea was limited to certain plastics in photolithographic or melt- extrusion processes, making it more of a novelty than a truly useful large-scale manufacturing process. But over the decades, as it improved and evolved, the speed of printing got faster, the materials expanded to powder-fused metal parts, and the scales expanded to 3D printing of concrete structures and houses – all from answering the question “how can we cast/forge a more intricate 3D part without welds?”.
When we pool our collective intellect, and remove the constraints and critiques of an idea, truly great things can come about. And this doesn’t just apply to innovative product development ideas for companies, national governments have done this as well. France pooled 150 random French citizens into a Citizen’s Convention for the Climate in 2019. Over the course of two-weeks, the assembly was given a crash course in climate science and then given the task to brainstorm ideas on how France could cut carbon emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030. The assembly worked for nine months to produce a 150-page document with policies to be implemented by the French Parliament. And while some of the policies were watered-down (a ban on flights less than four hours was reduced to two and a half; and banning advertising for big petrol cars was reduced to having them include climate warning messages), the result is that innovation and disruption can come from anywhere.
This is the same premise that SPARC takes to heart. Tackling the big problems is going to take a collective effort, from all walks of industry and research, to develop the next crazy innovation. And if we can develop and refine it over time, we can fulfill our vision ‘to inspire and contribute towards a better world’!